|The Big Nickel: Tom Brady back at practice, Jonathan Crompton on ‘Being Peyton Manning’||11.18.10 at 2:14 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Thursday.
1. As expected, Tom Brady was back at practice on Thursday, at least for the first 10 or so minutes of the session that were open to the media. Brady, who missed Wednesday’s practice with what was listed on the injury report as a foot problem, was not in the locker room during media availability, but went through the stretches and drills with the rest of the team at the start of practice. He did not appear to be hindered in any fashion. The injury report will be released at 4 p.m., and that should tell us if he was limited in any way.
2. Being Peyton Manning. Practice squad quarterback Jonathan Crompton said on Thursday that he and backup Brian Hoyer have been splitting duties working as Peyton Manning in practice this week, trying to prepare New England’s starting defense for the Indy quarterback. Hoyer has apparently been working in no-huddle sets and Crompton handling the other duties.
It’s a job that Crompton, a rookie out of Tennessee, is taking seriously.
“We just have to study and give our defense the best look we can. I know Brian does a real tremendous job with that, and so I’m just going out there and the both of us are just doing the best we can,” said Crompton. “The biggest thing is that you’ve got to know how to handle your job. That’s my role on the team right now, and I’ve got to do the best I can.
Giving the starting defense a reasonable facsimile of Manning is the sort of thing that goes a long way around Foxboro: In the days leading up to the 2003 AFC Championship Game, former backup Damon Huard did such a good job that he was singled out by coach Bill Belichick after the game, and he received a game ball for his efforts.
3. It’s still really hard to sack Peyton Manning. While the Indy quarterback is a stat-producing machine, one of the most intriguing numbers are his sack totals. In 201 games and out of 6,917 pass attempts over the course of his career, the Colts quarterback has been dropped only 227 times. That equates to one sack every 30.47 passes attempts, an extraordinarily low number for a pocket quarterback like Manning. No quarterback has been sacked fewer times than Peyton Manning since the NFL started keeping official track of the statistic.
This season, Manning has been sacked 12 times through nine games. While that number is relatively high for the Colts quarterback, it remains one of the lowest figures in the league among starting signal-callers. Why is it so hard to bring Manning down?
“You have to give his line credit — he’s always had a good offensive line. And he knows when to get the ball out,” said outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “Any time you’ve got pressure, you always see him throwing the ball off to an open receiver because he knows who’s going to be open and he knows every route that’s being run. So he can go through his progression quickly and throw the ball to somebody who’s open.”
[Click here to read more about what the Patriots plan to do to Manning this weekend to get him off his game.]
“His pre-snap reads are amazing. He pretty much knows what’s going on before he even snaps the ball,” said inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, who got his first career sack against Manning last November. “That’s the tough part.”
The Patriots’ pass rush has been inconsistent since the start of the season — through nine games, they have 18 sacks, tied for 19th overall — but they did come away with five sacks last week against the Steelers. Can any of that performance carry over this week against Manning and the Colts?
“We just have to keep moving in the right direction,” Mayo said. “There was a little hiccup in the road against the Cleveland Browns, but the four weeks previous to that, we were going in the right direction. Like I said earlier this year, we have a young defense and we’re trying to get better.”
4. No one is going to weep for either the Patriots or Colts— two teams that have had more than their share of injuries this season — but the resilience that Indianapolis has shown throughout the course of the season has impressed some of the Patriots. While New England has placed 10 players on injured reserve this season (including starters like Ty Warren, Leigh Bodden and Kevin Faulk), things have been just as bad in Indianapolis, where the Colts have 15 players on season-ending injured reserve, including tight end Dallas Clark.
“I think there’s a feeling, especially around here, that this team is just trying to hold on for dear life until guys come back and are healthy,” Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz told WEEI on Thursday morning. “I think people around here are sort of ready to take their lumps against New England and just hope they can hang on long enough to get some guys back and make a run at the playoffs.”
“When the team goes through battle, things like injuries and they go through a little adversity and they bounce back, it shows the character of the team and it shows their unity as a team. And they’ve been doing that,” cornerback Jonathan Wilhite said of the Colts. “They’ve got everything still going, and they have a quarterback who has been leading them.”
Despite all of that, the Patriots are 7-2 and tied for the lead in the AFC East, while the Colts are 6-3 and on top of the AFC South,
“That defines a good team, when you have guys that can come in when you need them and make plays in certain situations and back guys up who are hurt. That shows unity as a team and character,” Wilhite added. “I feel that’s what we live by too. Having the second guys just as prepared as the first guys.”
5. On his weekly radio show, Colts president Bill Polian — a summer resident of Falmouth — had an interesting statement about this Sunday’s game. Polian, who’s never been shy about taking a shot or two at the Patriots, called New England “very good,” but cautioned Indianapolis fans about putting too much into this one game, and sounded a lot like someone who was preparing Colts’ fans for a bit of a letdown this weekend.
“This game will not decide anything,” Polian said. “There’s a long way to go in this season. The winner in this game is not guaranteed to go to the Super Bowl. And the loser is not guaranteed to miss the playoffs. It’s one game. It’s interesting. It’s exciting. But it’s only one game with seven to go.”
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